Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review: Head Games by Erika Rummelf

Head Games
by Erika Rummel
Publisher: Guernica Editions; 1st edition (April 30, 2013)
Available in: Print & pdf,  200p

This is a fast paced page turner.  A suspenseful, thrilling roller coaster ride with lots of twisty, loopy sections.  There are four major characters.  Lisa, the protagonist and Don, Jim and Santos the three men caught in her gravity well, orbiting the black hole that is her center.

All four of them are the kind of characters it is very hard to empathize with and harder still to like.  For none of them have a moral compass nor a solid sense of self. Every one of them have agendas for which they are willing to use another even against their wellbeing to accomplish. Yet Rummel manages to make us care.  I'm still trying to sort out how she did that.

They are all playing roles, wearing masks that they select and and discard according to the cues of those they interact with, according the their take on the other's expectations and biases.  But since everyone is pitting their roles and masks against everyone else's, taking their cues from illusions, no one can get a solid grip on reality.

Lisa herself has the most masks and roles and seems to be the only one fully conscious of what she is doing.  She has the least sense of self of any of them, sensing what there is draining away.  She seems unable to be any self at all without someone else to play off of.  Yet she longs for solitude. Being inside her head during her POV scenes is much like how I imagine being inside the head of a schizophrenic would feel like.  I suspected early on that might be her real problem.  Saying here whether I was right or wrong would be a spoiler either way.

The story plot centers on Lisa's quest to find her 'real' father as she has learned (or imagined) that her mother was already pregnant with another man's child before she married the man who raised her.  Now she is obsessed with finding her real father back in Argentina where her parents lived until they married.  She has pinned all her hopes for ever having a 'self' of her own on finding her 'real' father so she can finally know who she really is.  She can't do it alone tho so she manipulates Don, Santos and Jim at various times to aid her progress with little awareness that they in turn are using her for agendas of their own.

Head Games is an apt title for this enthralling read.  But I would suggest it is not a bedtime story.  If I'd been given this warning I'd have done everything in my power to make sure I was not reading it just before sleeping.  It was more unnerving than any Stephen King novel.  But that isn't a fair comparison since I've long been fine with reading Stephen King at bedtime.  I've often laughed at the notion of fearing the nightmares his stories might bring on, saying that I welcome nightmares as they are the most interesting, profound and insightful of all dream types.

I've now met a nightmare I'd rather not conjure up again.  There were no monsters, chases or catastrophes in this nightmare.  It was ennui and amorphous fear of unseen shadows unzipping the inner seams of me to allow my Self to seep away.

Yet I may reread this story and also look for Playing Naomi.  Make of that what you will.

From the Publishers:

Argentina, 1979.  Life has gone stale on Jim, an expat working in Catamarca. Everything is predictable until he meets Lisa. She has the starry eyes, the sensuous lips, and the tango steps that make all rational assumptions go away.  Jim gives her top marks for animation but there is a flashing beacon at the end of his tip sheet: Danger. Lisa is a little too intense, a little too crazy, a woman with too many scenes playing in her head.
That doesn’t faze Santos, a curandero looking for a medium to channel the spirits of the dead and attract his lost sister. He lures Lisa to his compound in northern Argentina, where she becomes a pawn in a deadly family feud. Jim goes in search of Lisa. Tracking her down turns into a double mission — delivering Lisa from her captors and himself from the confining routine of his life.
It takes a fantastic journey through rugged back country for Jim to realize how much he loves Lisa.  The story unfolds against the background of a country in the grip of a military junta. It is a place where kidnapping, violence, and death no longer make headlines, a place where you learn survival skills.

What they are saying:

Praise for Head Games:

“An author with a powerful imagination. A complex plot that takes us to Argentina in the late seventies with compelling characters even though you often feel like beating some common sense into the heroine. Many ironic remarks indirectly criticizing our modern time that make you smile. A good read, beautifully written.” -J. Ragache C.T., Amazon.com Reviewer

“Identity’s a big theme in this work, so if you’ve ever felt you were someone other than yourself, if you thought you might like to try living in someone else’s skin, if you’ve wondered whether your friends and loved ones were not exactly who they claimed to be, then this psychological labyrinth might just be your winding road to a good read”  - Carole Giangrande, Words to Go

Having read Rummel’s “Playing Naomi” I couldn’t wait to get hold of her next novel. And I wasn’t disappointed – as one often is with second works. What a fertile imagination she has to dream up.
As before, Rummel offers some quirky characters, lovingly sketched, and twists and turns in the plot that kept my interest throughout. I love her sense of humour, her wonderful irony. And the way she makes you enter the head (games) of the heroine. The three men are wacky and interesting too. The trip to Argentina you can take for free!
The novel is beautifully written. A joy to read. Can’t wait for the next one!! Keep writing.”  - Katarina, Amazon.ca Reviewer

Praise for Playing Naomi:

“Suspenseful & riveting.  What a wonderful debut novel! Once I started reading, I simply couldn’t put it down. I want a sequel! This imaginative story about role playing is not just about the protagonist (Liz) impersonating an eccentric author (Naomi), but touches on broader issues about what can happen while we play roles.
What I found particularly fascinating and unique about Playing Naomi was how Rummel interrupts her narrative with excerpts from Naomi’s (fictive) novel. 
This novel within the novel provides a suspenseful and compelling backdrop to Liz’s story.
Rummel’s psychological insights, fine sense of irony, quirky characters, fluid style, and ability to create and keep the suspense make this a riveting read.”  - Carina, Amazon.com Reviewer

“Playing Naomi is a tightly woven novel with great descriptive passages and a gripping story. I really felt for Liz when she is confronted by one of Naomi’s old friends without warning, while impersonating Naomi. It explores the complexities of taking on someone else’s life while trying to live your own, against a back drop of reviving the past in order to make peace with it. It was a quick read, but the characters and story stayed with me.”  - N. McIntosh, Amazon.com Reviewer

Erika Rummel was awarded a Random House Creative Writing Award in 2011. She is the author of more than a dozen non-fiction  books (social history, biography, translation) and two novels, Playing Naomi (2009) and Head Games (2013).

Erika came to Canada from Vienna and obtained a doctorate from the University of Toronto. She divides her time between Toronto and Los Angeles, but has also lived in small villages in Argentina, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Playing Naomi has been praised as a wry comedy “reminiscent of the corrosive but jovial cynicism of media satires like The Larry Saunders Show and The Newsroom” (Cynthia Sugars in University of Toronto Quarterly).

Erika Rummel’s Website
Erika Rummel’s Blog

Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts: 

So Many Precious Books Nov 5 Review & Giveaway
Bookalicious Travel Addict Nov 12 Spotlight & Giveaway
Sweeps 4 Bloggers Nov 13 Review & Giveaway
Ordinary Girlz Nov 14 Spotlight
Carole Ramblings  Nov 15 Review
Ordinary Girlz  Nov 18 Review
Joy Story Nov 19 Review
Books, Books & More Books Nov 20 Review
Paperback Writer Nov 20 Guest Post
Buried Under Books Nov 21 Promo
From L.A. to LA Nov 22 Review
Deal Sharing Aunt Nov 25 Spotlight & GiveawayMagdalena Ball Nov 26 Guest Post


2 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 11/19/2013 8:47 PM  

Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed Head Games so much! I do most of my reading before bed and I can't agree enough, this is not good bedtime reading. It kept me up long after I turned my ereader off!

Erika Rummel 11/20/2013 5:32 AM  

Thanks for your thoughtful review. I don't want to give anyone nightmares, but I can't help being pleased at being compared with Steven King. You think HEAD GAMES is more "unnerving" than his novels? Wow! Thanks also for putting up with my "ugly" characters. Life isn't always beautiful, and novels aren't always escapist.

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